Have you been told you have a slipped disc? What if there was a faster way to recover from low back pain?
The analogy of “the straw that broke the camel’s back” is incredibly accurate when describing most slipped discs. Over time and poor repetitive movements, bending, lifting, and sitting, your spinal alignment continues to compress and strain the inner disc.
Think of your shock absorbing discs like a jelly donut. You have a very strong outside layer of thick fibrocartilage material, and the inside is a softer nucleus that allows for flexibility.
If you continue to compress that ‘jelly donut’, and the force becomes too much for the body to handle, and the middle nucleus starts to leak out and “slip out”. This can be called a Disc Herniation, Disc Bulge, Disc Protrusion, or commonly a Slipped Disc
The pain from a slipped disc can range from local (near the spine) to travelling down the arms and legs, and can be:
Mild to severe
Create numbness or tingling
Create burning, hot, or cold sensation
Difficulty moving and bending
Arm and leg weakness
Loss of balance and coordination
Relapse episodes from weeks to years
The sad news, more people than you think have a slipped disc.
How Common is a Slipped Disc?
Surprised? When we look at the research in the asymptomatic (no pain) population here, we see that 50% of people aged 40 have a disc bulge (Figure A)! We have a NeuroStructural problem forming but you can’t feel it just yet!
Common Types of Disc Problems
1. Disc Degeneration
When the vertebrae of your spine, over time the disc will start to wear unevenly. The longer the problem sits there, the more disc degeneration occurs. This is an example of a 40 year old man with a history of a bad fall down the stairs with a compression fracture at L3. With such large structural change, the body has started to degenerate, or wear away much faster than would be expected. The extra bone spurs and compressed disc indicate this process has been building slowly for a few decades.
2. Disc Bulge
On MRI or CT scans, we can confirm the extent of the disc bulge, and if it is pushed out into any sensitive areas like the spinal cord or any nerve roots. This is a common cause for disc problems that are causing numbness, tingling, and loss of muscle strength and control.
3. Annular Fissure or Annular Tear
An annular disc tear is created when the strong cartilaginous protective ring layer tears. This can be one of the most excruciating disc pains, with sharp piercing pain in the back that can travel down the leg. Often an annular tear makes movement extremely difficult, with sit to stand or getting into a car near impossible in the early acute inflammatory stage.
What Causes a Disc Problem?
We often hear in our clinic, “I just bent forwards to pick up the kid”, or “I just went to tie my shoe and then I became stuck forwards in pain!”.
Our day to day posture and habits are the biggest culprits to blame.
Imagine if every day you took a knife and chipped away at your table, just 1mm at a time. After a few months, and even a few years that accumulate damage becomes a lot more noticeable. In order to stop relapses, you have to be smart with your posture. Make sure to take breaks from sitting at work every 45 minutes and be conscious of how you are using your computer or work-station.
Disc problems can also be accelerated by high impact injuries like:
Slip and Falls
Motor Vehicle accidents
Heavy lifting and carrying
Most recently, we had a patient who was travelling through Cambodia and had to take a very long and bumpy car ride. All of the bumpy compression and axial loading set off a nasty low back spasm which restricted the rest of her trip.
She came to our office bent forwards, not able to extend backwards, shuffling her feet, pain and numbness down her leg, looking for answers as to why she couldn’t move.
After just 5 adjustments over 2 weeks, she was standing up right, drastic reduction in pain, starting to ease back into exercise and continuing to do our Corrective Exercises we gave her for homework.
How Long Will The Pain Last?
This is the toughest question to answer, as it depends on how much damage and compression your spine and surroundings areas have, what your daily habits are, exercise (not just currently, but what have you been doing for the past years) and deconditioning level, nutrition, many more factors.
The good news, most uncomplicated disc problem can become pain free within 6-12 weeks on their own.. but that does not mean it has healed! Disc problems are known to be cyclic, with big episodes of pain coming on and off as the disc gets re-injured.